Energy harvesting for Internet of things

Wireless energy harvesting technology opens market for devices communicating on the Internet of things (IoT), and product lifecycle maintenance (PLM) helps it grow.

By Alaine Portnoy July 2, 2014

The Internet of things (IoT) is part of the evolution of the Internet where items are interconnected (stoves, toilets, shoes, shirts); the future may be found in connecting parts of everyday life. How can these devices be powered? Energy harvesting is a terrific solution that derives energy from solar, thermal, kinetic, and other sources, capturing energy and storing it for small, wireless autonomous devices, such as those used in wireless sensors networks and wearable electronics.

From a product design perspective, the opportunity is immense. Imagine these sensors embedded in everything from structures to vehicles to clothing. An office in a skyscraper might alert someone that lights have been left on, a vehicle might provide an alert if a child safety lock has been tripped or when favorite radio talk program starts in 5 minutes; sneakers could alert when they have reached their optimal mileage threshold. Or what if tunnels could send an alarm if stress-related cracks form, couches could sing when they’ve swallowed keys, and wearable technology could send battery-free text messages or emails? 

Wearable technology opportunities

Wearable technology is forecast by Juniper Research to hit $1.4 billion this year, and that figure is predicted to hit $19 billion by 2018. This industry is a prime example of the opportunity that energy harvesting brings with the additional layer of complexity and coordination within the product design process.

Device manufacturers in communication, fitness, sports, and health industries will be deploying energy harvesting for such applications as telemedicine systems and m-health or mobile health initiatives as a way to implement ruggedized handset communications for all clinicians.

According to the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, energy harvesting and power delivery for implantable medical devices sees the different state-of-the-art mechanisms that do "in-body" energy harvesting as well as "out-of-body" wireless power delivery that are becoming more prevalent. Providing a constant and perpetual energy source is a key design challenge for implantable medical devices.

For medical devices, energy harvesting technology would eliminate the need for bulky batteries and the risk of battery-related defects.

"Energy harvesting is becoming an increasingly viable source of power for a variety of devices, especially where the environmental and economic costs of maintaining batteries is untenable," said Bob Gohn, vice president of Pike Research.

"Consumer products such as laptops and mobile phones are already being powered by energy harvesting technology." Gohn believes the medical device market will be the next one to capitalize on the benefits of energy harvesting. 

PLM, energy harvesting, smart technology

With these cutting-edge products comes an opportunity for emerging start-ups and a wide variety of small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) to deliver new or enhanced products and gain a competitive advantage.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software can help to efficiently develop these products for a successful launch. PLM software can help SMBs develop products more quickly by providing an alternative to traditional PLM designed for larger companies. Electronic devices, sensors, and some of the newer cutting-edge product manufacturers are looking to PLM to streamline and optimize design processes and ultimately help shorten time to market. However, they may not have the budget of a Boeing or Ford, in which a PLM solution geared to address an SMB’s needs would be more appropriate.

An example of this is emerging wireless electricity provider WiTricity’s use of PLM software to bring its technology to market more quickly. The company uses the software to automate engineering change orders and product documentation management, as well as to centralize information for design teams. WiTricity representatives said the company could not fully function without its PLM software that keeps electrical and mechanical design teams synchronized and engineering processes controlled and transparent. This in turn allows WiTricity to bring safe, efficient operation of wireless electricity over large distances to its customers.

And energy harvesting companies, such as Lord MicroStrain Sensing Systems, use PLM for managing the product lifecycle of their smart, wireless sensors in use in such applications as advanced manufacturing, off-highway vehicles, commercial and military vehicles with drivers and autonomous vehicles, civil structures, and downhole tools. Lord MicroStrain’s design and engineering team enhanced and enforced business processes using a PLM system as well as developed advanced integrations with engineering design and manufacturing environments.

The PLM software implementation has resulted in a decrease of MicroStrain’s BOM processing time from two to three days to just minutes. The engineers can access approved parts stored in PLM from within their CAD program. The bills of materials (BOMs) generated from the engineering systems are imported into the PLM for approval, and the released BOM data is sent directly to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software in an automated and streamlined process. PLM software helped MicroStrain get to market first, stake a larger market share, and maximize profit margins.

Demand grows in industrial market

Device designers will be looking at using energy harvesting technology for wireless batteryless storage devices. Existing energy harvesting applications include vibration-based wireless train measuring systems, wireless sensors distributed citywide to implement smart cities, oil field monitoring systems, and windup laptops for use in remote regions.

This will be augmented with consumer demand for smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras, and home entertainment devices. However, this is a price-driven and time-driven market. To help them ensure a first mover advantage, they have also come to realize that it is absolutely paramount to invest in product lifecycle management to invent and accelerate time to market. PLM really helps minimize costly product errors and manufacturing delays. This is critical for the consumer electronics sector because their product innovations are typically complex and have frequently changing parts.

Manufacturing for consumer electronics and wearable devices is taking place in shifting global locations with components coming from possibly anywhere around the world along with sales happening everywhere. PLM is enabling manufacturers to streamline and manage global supply chains by providing visibility across the enterprise’s entire product lifecycle, even in other countries.

Future IoT projections

Watch for business opportunities as this new market emerges. Powering small electronic devices, such as wireless sensors, smart-building and industrial equipment controls, and wellness and wearable monitors, will proliferate the market and create a positive impact. Not only does it protect the environment by reducing CO2 emissions while eliminating batteries and power cabling, it will also finally enable the IoT ecosystem and ignite the creation of many new products.

In the near future, hundreds of millions of these kinds of devices will deploy into office buildings, houses, hotels, industrial sites, transportation infrastructure, and electric vehicles. Analysis shows that the energy harvesting market will grow to $4.2 billion within five years, including the emergence of thousands of developers and design engineers involved throughout the value chain. The development cycle for devices will shorten even more. PLM will be a tremendous benefit to managing the design and production process for companies to stay competitive and bring these timely devices and technology to market in the quickest manner possible.

– Alaine Portnoy is senior marketing manager, Omnify Software. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


Key concepts

  • Energy harvesting devices can power the Internet of things (IoT).
  • Product lifecycle management (PLM) software helps companies that produce IoT devices and energy harvesting devices.

Consider this

Have you looked into energy harvesting instead of wired power or batteries and factored in lifecycle costs of each?

ONLINE extra July archives have this article with additional information, links, and images.

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